Skip to page content
Bureau of International Labor Affairs
Bookmark and Share

Step 3: Develop a Code of Conduct

Learning Objectives

  • Know the main standards that should be included in a good code of conduct.
  • Understand the basic steps involved in developing and revising a code.
  • Become familiar with industry or cross-sector codes that may be relevant to you.

Key Terms

Code of Conduct ("Code")—The foundation of a social compliance program, a code of conduct is a document that sets out the social (and often, environmental) standards and policies with which a company and its suppliers are expected to comply.  Many companies refer to their codes by a name other than “code of conduct,” but the term is used throughout this toolkit for consistency and clarity.

A code is a set of voluntary standards; in this respect it differs from law—although relevant laws (both U.S. and source country) must be taken into account, as should collective bargaining agreements and international framework agreements (IFAs) with union federations, which are enforceable contracts.  A code is not a substitute for any of these instruments.

Prior to the mid-1990s, few companies had codes of conduct that included labor standards.  The late 1990s saw a proliferation of codes, particularly in the apparel sector, and this trend spread into other sectors over the decade that followed.  The links on the left-hand side of this page provide more information about developing a code of conduct.  It is recommended that you read them in the order presented; you can move from one section to the next without returning to this page.


Note:  Any references to companies or non-governmental entities within this guide are only for informational purposes and should not be interpreted as an official endorsement of those entities, their products or services by the U.S. Department of Labor.